If you went hiking among the lichen-topped rocks and the icy mountains of Baffin Island, and you suddenly came upon a deep ravine like a cleft in the world, and felt warm moist breezes from below, and you saw, a thousand feet down, the green crowns of trees, and heard the tinkling of sheep bells and echoes of human activity, I assure you that you would do something, because it would be impossible for you not to. You would notice it.
But if that ravine were all ice and bare rock, unless you were as determined as a surveyor for the government, you would probably not notice it. Nor would you notice the absence of squirrels, sparrows, and blue jays. It is hard to “see” things so big and so near that you take them for granted, or to “see” that something is not there that might have been there.
And now I descend into a very different ravine, from the imaginary beauty of a Shangri-La, and the stark forbidding beauty of Baffin Island, to the tawdry, treacherous, lurid, puerile, foolish, sterile, and sick.
In a previous article, I referred to the behavior of Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, a man alleged to have had roaming hands and a taste for seminarians and young priests. I’ll now describe an account of one of the accusers, set down in a letter many years ago.
Three priests and a seminarian are in a bedroom with two beds. They are watching television. Bishop McCarrick is “sitting on the crotch” of one of the priests, running his hands over the man’s body and putting them down his underwear. The third priest smiles. McCarrick says to the seminarian, “Don’t worry, you’re next.” The third priest starts rubbing the seminarian’s back and shoulders. The seminarian feels sick, and gets under the covers, pretending to sleep.
McCarrick, says the testimony, would not let it go. He pursued the young man. He called him, as he called the others, his “nephew,” calling himself “Uncle Ted,” and encouraging the men to call each other “cousins.”
One night he asked the seminarian to drive him to New York City, but they did not return to Newark as expected. Instead they went to a one-room apartment, with one bed and a recliner. McCarrick said he would take the recliner, but after a while he climbed into the bed, wrapping arms and legs around the seminarian, telling him what a nice kid he was, what a good priest he’d make, how hard he, McCarrick, was working, and how powerful he was.
Then, in language I won’t repeat, the seminarian describes how McCarrick engaged in what, if we were talking about a man and a woman, would be called attempted rape. The youth got free of the bishop’s clutches and went to the bathroom, retching and weeping. Not to be thwarted so easily, McCarrick called him back to bed after twenty minutes, but the seminarian went to the recliner.
Things in plain sight: No one is surprised that a homosexual man would engage in sexual activity right in front of other men? A married man and woman, unless they are really foul, do not undress and take pleasure in one another in sight of other couples. The homosexual man’s feelings are not perversions of what a normal man feels for his wife. They are perversions of what a normal man feels for his male friends.
Friendship is not exclusive: it grows richer as more people are drawn into its circle. Think of the team or the platoon, those essentially masculine groups. Andrew says to Peter, “Come and see the man we have met!”
Jesus never once takes aside an apostle for private time, and that is true even when he singles Peter out for special duty: “Simon, do you love me?” When Peter says he does, Jesus directs him toward the good of all the others: “Feed my sheep.”
No one is surprised by the existence of a band of brothers; it is too ordinary a thing. When Tom Sawyer and his friends meet in the cave and swear themselves in as members of a secret criminal society, with a blood-oath and all, we’re not surprised that boys would do that, though we are entertained by the odd place where they do it and the exaggerated form that Mark Twain lends to it. We do not notice that girls do not do that. It is in the nature of the boyish beast.
What McCarrick and his ilk are alleged to have done is to establish a club of the open secret, with initiation rites, inducements, moral compromises, implicit blackmail, and punishment of those who would expose the behavior to the public.
Tom’s friends had to swear that if any of the boys told of their doings, the traitor’s whole family would have to be killed. That looked hard for Huck Finn because he didn’t have any family ready to hand, but the boys happened upon an expedient, and agreed that they could kill the Widow Watson, Huck’s keeper, instead.
We smile because they are only boys, and the boyish club is a shadow of the dynamic male team: armies, pioneers, line-workers, miners, farmers, and ministers of the Church.
But instead of fighting, clearing land, growing food, and sweating for the common good, or laying down their lives for God, McCarrick’s club is a case of arrested development. It does not go forth to conquer. It plays tree-house. It works not by open deeds but by gossip and bureaucratic favor or malice.
The club comes first, and the Church is the occasion for the club, just as an overgrown child refers all things to himself, or as gay Narcissus cannot take his eyes off his own lovely form – or his as visible in the body of another man.
In none of this do we find a real band of brothers, or the priest as wedded to his bride, the Church.
*Image: Narcissus by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), c. 1598 [National Gallery of Ancient Art (Palazzo Barberini), Rome]